Here’s the thing: not a lot of people know about the Philippines, let alone its gastronomic offering. Hell, even I can’t quite explain what it’s like if you ask me about it. It’s not particularly as definitive as Chinese, nor Indian, nor Italian. And when someone tells me they’ve never tried the cuisine, I always go back to an article I wrote in 2011 (gasp), when Tom Parker-Bowles talked about Filo food. TPB’s essay made me partly cringe and roll my eyes in parts, but I also sense of pride to have come from an ethnicity of creatives – moreso, the kitchen.
Admittedly, my palate only really started to appreciate Filipino food in my teens, when I realised how diverse the cuisine is with its regional influences and native produce. Now I love the stuff and crave it from time to time. However, there’s not a lot of Filo places in London and I can’t cook for the life of me. My fave had been Port of Manila in Hammersmith which has ceased operations and I’ve yet to visit Romulo Cafe in Kensington. Also, I’m annoyed that the McDonald’s Filo counterpart, Jollibee, still has no English franchise. I freaking want my Chicken Joy and palabok.
There’s hope for us, though.
A few Filipino supper clubs are peppered around London. They’ve gained a slight buzz and cult following, not just from Filo expats, but also from those who are curious. They’ve done quite well and have recently concluded Mabuhay Filifest – an event showcasing their offerings and a damn good Filipino time.
Enter The Adobros: brothers Mark and Mike, who have a pride of heritage and passion for food. Growing up in Hong Kong with homecooked Filo dishes courtesy of their mom, the bros pretty much had to learn and perfect her recipes when they went to boarding school in the UK. Now in successful careers, the bros host supper clubs every now and then in aims of introducing the cuisine to the Big Smoke.
Walking into Mark’s and Mike’s South London home was quite sweet. Punters have already started sipping on welcome rum-based cocktails with a fresh tropical twist. The flat looks lovely and bright, the vibe was warm, and a table of Pinoy brochures spark convos about where we have/haven’t been.
And then there was food.
Sat in their cosy dining area, we began our feast with the bros’ take on the Filipino “national dish”, adobo. Crispy, succulent, fried chicken wings coated in that good ol’ garlicky soy-vinegar concoction I grew up with. It was punchy and the tang was perfect. This was a good start, and I’m not shy to say I had seconds.
Watching Mark and Mike work together was rather adorable. At one point, whilst we were all devouring our food, we caught them sharing a tender moment and toasting with spirits. Made me miss my sibs.
As they prep our mains, a beasty plate of kare-kare, I can’t help but wonder how many of my foodie friends have actually tried this dish. Few days later, I did an Instagram Story and more than 70% said no. Haha.
Kare-kare is a stew, usually cooked and served in a clay pot, made with oxtail, lots of veggies, and tripe. The sauce is peanut based but it’s not quite like a satay.
It’s definitely one of my fave Filo dishes, but I love it with chunks of meat. I enjoy eating this with rice and bagoong (shrimp paste).
The Adobros’ kare kare dish is deconstructed into a fine-dining plate. Theirs is made with short rib and boy what a generous portion of short rib it was. Grilled aubergine slices and green bean knotted into special ribbons serve as garnish. The yellow peanut sauce glistens – it’s thick and smooth and smelt delicious.
My cut was so tender I couldn’t help but do a happy dance at first bite. It dawned on me that I’ve never had kare kare with coconut milk before, but it works. I suppose like most cuisines, each region have a way of cooking dishes. The Adobros’ offering was slightly on the sweeter side, but not overpoweringly so. Add some rice and shrimp paste, and you have a fab dinner meal.
To cleanse the palate, a slushie made with calamansi and Angustura bitters. If you know nothing about calamansi, it’s a tiny citrus fruit and the taste is a sweet, sharp, kind of sour. The Adobros have their own pot growing in the flat – and I’m jealous!
Dessert comes in the form of bibingka, which made me chuckle. In the Philippines, this coconut rice cake is synonymous to Christmas, as vendors would sell them outside of church after misa de gallo.
The Adobros’ bibingka was slightly sweeter than what I’m used to, but it had a nice texture and lightness to it that I like. The cheesy bits add a nice savoury feel. The cake was served with a bukayo crisp (I didn’t care much for this, tbh) and a bowl of homemade macapuno ice cream which I absolutely demolished. Like, guys, you have no idea how beautiful that ice cream was.
Bellies full and meal over, the Adobros chatted to us with smiles on their faces and bigger smiles on ours. The vibe is great (the flat is clean and pretty) and the food is generous. Seeing Mark and Mike work the “pass” with precision and professionalism was quite refreshing – it was systematic without being robotic and light-hearted enough to still be fun.
It’s always a pleasure seeing Filipinos pioneering the culture and cuisine. Frankly, I’ve not had such a good Filo meal in a while and what they’ve done (and what they’re doing) is quite commendable. I think all guests were impressed with the food – I mean I certainly am and can’t wait to go back!
The Adobros Supper Club